Wednesday, November 25, 2009
“Have you emailed that woman yet?” My mother’s smooth voice cuts through the silence as she bustles in from outside, balancing large boxes and bags of groceries, blown in by a cold gust of wind. I lean back in my chair, rubbing my sore eyes with the back of my hands.
“Yep, so now we just wait to hear back, she’s really busy, I don’t even know if she has anymore openings, Sarah might be outta luck” I glance furtively at her, unpacking the bags, to see if she is buying it.
“I know, I know” She mutters as she putters around the kitchen, “I just think it would be so great if you two could work together!”
“Yeah...” I sigh, forcing my eyes again to the cursor on the screen, blinking away, mocking me and my lie.
Hmmm...working with my sister...
I immediately imagine three days earlier. Screaming at the top of her lungs Sarah is hurling clothes in my direction, scattering them around my feet, ripping and kicking her way through my laundry.
“WHERE IS MY FLOWY WHITE SHIRT? YOU TOOK IT I KNOW YOU TOOK IT! YOU ALWAYS TAKE MY STUFF! I NEVER SAID YOU COULD BORROW IT!” She bellows.
The thought flits across my mind like a fragile butterfly before it is smashed by the giant force that is my rage. My face flushes as the blood pumps to my temples.
“GET OUT OF MY ROOM YOU STUPID HYPOCRITE! YOU TAKE MY STUFF ALL THE TIME YOU! GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” I shriek.
I throw my own possessions back at her, an arsenal of pencils, books, papers, shirts, pants, bras...the cat, before slamming the door shut on her crimson face.
Hmmm...working with my sister...Do I want to add cast iron frying pans to that mix?
I stare at the blank screen once again; the cursor blinks at me knowingly.
The door to the basement creaks as Sarah trots up the stairs. She skips by me happily humming a song which I probably wouldn’t like. She stops mid way between me, at the kitchen table, and the hallway leading upstairs, turns back and makes her way over.
“Whatchhhh’ya doin?” she sings at me
“Emailing Linda for you” I reply
“OH AWESOME! Now I can have money for coffee. Cookie?” she asks, extending the small stack she has grasped in her hand.
I smile, knowing these are a precious commodity, usually coveted and fought over. I take the offering.
“Thanks” I say, taking a bite.
“No probs Bobs” She calls back as she skips away down the hall.
Cookie crumbs fall haphazardly onto my keyboard. I brush them aside and being typing, the steady tap tap tap of the keys slowly filling the empty white space before me on the screen.
Hey Linda, I was just wondering if you still need a dishwasher for weekends. My sister would be very interested in the job she is hardworking and...
Thursday, November 12, 2009
“No, he's SO funny. NO I can’t believe you just said that. HE IS HILARIOUS.”
“I just don’t get his humour”
I move my chin, slightly shifting the phone gripped precariously between my right shoulder and my ear. Its plastic surface groans in protest, but my hands are too preoccupied to come to its rescue.
“That’s just ‘cause you’re a girl! Girls never appreciate his kind of humour; you know
I have a stick in my left hand and a fallen green leaf in my right. Absentmindedly I try to balance the leaf on the end of the stick, wrinkling my brow in frustration. The warm summer breeze gently rustles my hair, and I shift my seated position, the hard cool concrete of my front steps biting into my thighs.
“...and when he made that one joke, you know the one right? The one where that guy, the fat guy, runs up to the car...”
“I really don’t know, but you know who IS funny...”
In the background of my conversation I hear the soft sound of someone making their way down the back lane adjacent to my house. The twigs and leaves crackle and crunch under their steps. Something metallic squeaks and screeches and I glance to my left. I gaze through the gaps that puncture the hedge barricade between our yard and the lane. The front tip of an old grocery cart appears from behind the side of my house, stacked to the brim with old dirty newspapers and flyaway plastic bags.
I pause midsentence, frozen. A cold hand grips my heart, squeezing it. My breath catches in my throat making an audible gasping sound. A thin man takes up the rear of the cart, pushing its heaving mass forward. I recognize his dirty gray mop of hair and his swollen belly, protruding and out of place on his otherwise small frame. He limps forward with his signature gait.
I leap to my feet, catching the phone as it tumbles towards the concrete with Olympic like prestige. I wrench at the handle of the front door. My heart pulses at my temples, I’m being chased. Adrenaline pumps from my glands and surges through my veins as the flight instinct takes over.
A distant voice floats up from the phones receiver clamped beneath my pale fingers as I continue to wrestle with the door.
“You still there?”
OPEN! OPEN! OPEN! I DO NOT WANT HIM TO KNOW WHERE I LIVE.
The door swings inward with the magic words and I rush inside, not daring to look behind me. I hasten across the living room, my socks slipping on the hardwood floor. I rush into my room, slam the door behind me and bring the phone to my ear.
“Sorry, sorry I’m here. That guy was outside my house! That crazy guy from work! I’ve told you about him, he always has all the newspapers in his cart, asks for 10 coffee refills. THAT CRAZY GUY WAS RIGHT OUTSIDE MY HOUSE. HE TOTALLY SAW WHERE I LIVE.”
I pace around the room with quick panicky footsteps, pulling frantically at the blinds until they are securely shut, unfocused on what I’m yelling into the phone.
“What? Why does he have newspapers in his cart?” questions the calm voice on the other end.
“WHAT?! You aren’t focusing! HE IS OUTSIDE MY HOUSE, what don’t you understand! NEWSPAPERS? I don’t know, he says his job is delivering flyers or something...why is he here! WHY IS HE OUTSIDE MY HOUSE?”
“Could it be that he is, you know, delivering flyers?”
“What?” I try and bring my focus back to what the voice is saying. I stare at the gaps between my window curtains, convinced that I see the outline of a person peering in. I repeat, “WHAT?”
“Meghan calm down. Are you pacing? I’ll repeat: could it be that he is just doing his job, he's delivering flyers?”
“What? NO...Well maybe, I don’t know, but he shouldn’t be here!" My voice trails out in an annoying whine.
“I’ve seen that guy plenty of times when I’ve picked you up from work. He is just a harmless old guy doing his job. It’s not his fault he is dirty...or that he takes advantage of the free coffee refills.” His voice dips amusingly, reasoning, calm and collected, a light jab at what I had said earlier. I can hear his smile, his slowly shaking head.
“Well I didn’t...I mean obviously liking coffee doesn’t make you crazy.” I stutter, smacking the edge of my bed. “OBVIOUSLY, I mean I’m not stupid”. I run a shaking hand through my hair.
His voice stretches out from the phone, patting me on the head, reprimanding and sympathetic, “You are not stupid, but you are being dramatic. You’re being judge-y again. He is just a man who has nowhere to go and nothing to do but walk around and deliver his flyers, before heading down to the restaurant to get a cup of coffee with 10 free refills...obviously”.
“I don’t think that judge-y is a word.” I hang up the phone.
I creep my way to the window, pulling aside the curtain, slowly peering across my yard, up and down the street. I can see the man’s outline about a block down, slowly limping away, pushing the broken cart ahead of him. Despite the obvious fact that I’m in no immediate danger, I breathe a sigh of relief. Tension slowly leaks out of my muscles as shame crawls in and takes its place. Without taking my eyes off the figure down the road, I push the numbers on the phone and again hold it up to my ear waiting for the click on the receiving end. I don’t wait for a hello.
“He is gone down the street now” I whisper.
“You do understand that YOU are the crazy person stalking some poor guy as he walks down the road. I hope he didn’t see you run into the house, I mean that CAN’T be good for his self esteem.” Even on a whim his speech is smooth and cutting.
“YES, ok yes” I sigh into the phone, “I understand that I am being irrational and shouldn’t judge people just based on their appearance no matter how CRAZILY they are dressed or how their home is in a grocery cart or how they have a stomach that is ridiculously disproportionate to the rest of them OR that they order multiple cups of coffee, I know this.” The words spill out of my mouth without pauses in between them, each racing the other to get out first.
“Hmm” is the reply.
“What you don’t believe me?”
“Well I’m trying”
I hear his eyebrows rise on the other end of line “You should try harder”.
I push the curtain close with the resolve to not to look out again. I look at the floor, and my lips pinching together, “You aren’t perfect either.”
The voice trickles affectionately from of the end of the receiver, “Yeah, but we aren’t talking about me.”
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Meghan sits in her car after work, stooped over the steering wheel. The keys lie on the dash board, untouched. Meghan stares straight ahead, lips pressed hard into a straight line. Her brow creases in concentration as salty liquid pulses behind her eyes. Her eyelashes bat up and down, furiously attempting to stay the saline waves. As the voice repeats again in her head, the liquid sees its chance and springs forward, streaming hot and furious down its cheek pathway.
No, no, no. That’s not right. Let me try again. I’ll tell you a nicer story, from the top:
Meghan pulls her minivan into the parking lot, swinging in under the neon sign. She immediately finds the perfect parking space. She does not drive around aimlessly for 10 minutes, cursing and smashing her hands against the dash, teeth gnashing and hair frizzing. No, she glides seamlessly into the spot; in fact she executes a positively superb parallel park. She is most definitely not late.
Meghan hops out of the car, skipping carelessly around a large puddle beside her van.
No, never mind. There is no puddle at all. Let me try that again.
Meghan hops out of the car, skipping for the joyous sake of skipping. Upon opening her car door, her keys do not fling out of her hand as if they had been pitched by a pro baseball player, skidding across the parking lot. Her cell phone does not wriggle loose from her ripped jacket pocket plunging directly into a cesspool of water and gasoline waiting below. She most definitely does not, only moments after fishing out the sopping mobile, step in this same pool of filth, soaking her left shoe completely before heading into work, where she is not reprimanded for being late...yet again.
Meghan is completely impervious to the heat pulsating in the restaurant, stifling, melting the paint on the walls, bending and blurring peripheral vision: airless and suffocating. Her face does not flush with a hot red splash of roasting colour. She need not desperately will the beads of sweat forming on the crest of her brow to halt and evaporate before the customer she speaks with notices the small droplet of salt dripping down the side of her cheek. Meghan, without a doubt, never has large unattractive perspiration marks form on the underarms of her cotton tee shirt.
Meghan does not hear the man with an uncanny yellow cowboy hat approach the cash register.
She does not look up when he projects arrogantly in a loud southern accent. She remains completely unaffected when he opens his wide mouth, rimed with a salt and pepper, handle bar mustache. Meghan does not hear his words, spat out by his voice box, pressed forward with his tongue and formed by his lips.
“You would make an excellent Elvis impersonator” this man does not say.
Meghan’s mouth does not hang perpetually open in this moment. She does not state blankly at the man with the yellow hat. She definitely does not giggle, because she didn’t think she heard him properly, and she never, ever asks him to repeat himself only to reassure that what she thought she heard was true.
“I said, you would make an excellent Elvis impersonator” he doesn’t obligingly repeat, giving a taunting smile, turning on his heel and marching away.
Meghan does not take a wavering step back, speechless, her brain struggling to process. She does not repeat this phrase to herself as he struts out the door. The picture of a gargantuan, fried banana sandwich- eating, fluff-banged, white spandex unisuit-wearing, sweating mass of a person that might be an Elvis impersonator, is not the image that forms in Meghan’s mind. The likeness of herself standing in the restaurant with a moist forehead, frizzy short dark hair and rhinestone-free two piece ensemble, does not immediately meld into that of the slovenly icon. This comparison does not sear into her mind, branded with a glowing red emblem, as embarrassment sends a wave of sickness crawling up her throat.
Later, at the end of the day, Meghan does not slump miserably over the steering wheel of her van. She does not let the musings of a person wearing a large yellow cow boy hat reach out and shake the very foundation of her self-worth for that day. But most importantly, large round tears do not form behind her eyes threatening to spill out in cascading ribbons. She most definitely, without a doubt, does not being to cry.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
“Hey Megs, I’m going on break so you serve the tables.”
A crazy person might imagine that the particular potato I’m holding is Jan’s face or something. Don’t worry; I’m not a crazy person. I drop the whole potato onto the counter, its fate delayed another 30 minutes.
I round the corner from the kitchen and reach into a cupboard. Grabbing a black waitressing apron, I tie it tightly around my waist. My feeling of power, wielding a knife against defenceless vegetables, taking money from strangers while I stand behind my proud cash box, slowly dissipates as I grab a pen and paper from a large stack, ready to take orders. As I straighten up, pen and paper in hand, four boys appear from behind the front wall and saunter their way to an empty table. They laugh mockingly and slap each other on the back jovially, wrestling over which chair to sit in. They are instantly recognizable; I went to high school with them.
My heart stops beating for what feels like a whole minute and then leaps back to life, erratically thumping in my chest.
“Who cares, it’s just high school, that was years ago” Says my brain.
“CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP!” say the butterflies in my stomach as they flip in the air, dropping down with a whooshing movement that makes me feel ill.
“I don’t care about what stupid high school boys think anymore” My brain strains to reiterate.
“RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN!” Says my pumping blood as it flushes embarrassingly to my face.
I am horrendously aware of the discoloured spots on my shirt, of my dirty sneakers, of my hair hurriedly tucked behind my ears, my makeup free face with red cheeks and blue-ish dark stains under my eyes...the thin glaze of sweat forming on my hands.
I whip around on the spot, pivoting on one foot, the other not even getting the chance to step forward. I march swiftly back into the kitchen without thinking. I look into the dirty reflective mirror that is the back metal wall of the kitchen. I see myself slowly transform. My face becomes rounder, less defined and speckled with red blotches. My hair lengthens in all directions becoming long, thick and frizzy, center parted. My eyebrows thicken and lose their shape; two large caterpillars perched above my eyes. The kitchen around me shifts and changes: the long counters morph into tall rusty lockers, the cooks into loitering students. I am in grade 9. I am in a crowded hallway. Boys laugh and push each other, girls giggle obnoxiously, giddy and chatting. The awkwardness, the insecurity sweeps over me as I make my way up this memory lane. I tug at my ill fitting, ill chosen clothes and stumble my way to where I am going.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
I open my eyes. Picking up the potato left abandoned on the counter, I rip into it with a sharp kitchen knife. I am 19 years old. I am in University, I am a grown woman. I am in control of this situation. I take another deep breath and then I laugh. It bubbles up from my throat and pours out in a few quiet giggles. I drop the potato into the bucket.
I am ridiculous.
My reflection again changes. My skin is clear, flushed with embarrassment and shame. My eyes are tired but shining from the laughter. My hair is short and tucked behind my ears, but my face is again defined and my eyebrows tamed and distinguished. I wipe my hands on my apron, grab a paper towel and mop the sweat and kitchen grime from my forehead. I walk around the counters towards the boys reading the menus and talking loudly.
“Hey man, its Meghan!”
“Hey Megs, you work here? That’s sweet! Do you guys have perogies?”
I smile brightly, confidently, over my temporary lapse of high school insecurity...immaturity, “Yeah, we do, did you guys want something to drink to start?”
Later, as I punch their orders into the electronic computer screen, my hand shakes slightly as I hold the pad up to read. I take another deep breath and will the image of the high school hallway far far away.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I remember, as a child, being at the outdoor pool in August. The heat has driven most of the neighbourhood here, and it’s bursting. I push my goggles into my eyes and plunge under the cool water. I hold myself down using the tiled side as the quiet deep surrounds me. To the world above I no longer exist. The water rises and falls slightly as the masses pile in and pile out. The movement sways me back and forth, back and forth. The happy screeches of children are muffled, scattered yet constant. I lazily glance around at the sun's rays that hit the surface and become skewed as the pale streaks slice the clear water. I can see the blurry images of children running above and farther off, on my own level, the disconnected legs of some unknown swimmer. I'm holding my breath and it will soon become uncomfortable, but for now my lungs are still and I feel natural.
I imagine I am baby. I am warm and snug and floating. I am not yet disturbed by the need to breath. To the world I am not yet present, I do not exist. I am adrift, swaying with the swells of a dark sea, back and forth, back and forth. There is a thunderous beat that is constant and unwavering, booming and all consuming...it tempers my stay. I know not what I am, or where I am going, but I don't mind...I'm on break.
I am in my little “break bubble”, remembering, imagining, swaying to the beat of the swivelling sticky leather stool as the clock ticks away the precious moments of my break. Suddenly, I feel the tug of reality and my back and forth rhythm is jarringly halted. A man sitting at the counter across the horseshoe shaped row facing mine is deftly trying to get my attention, using obnoxiously wild hand gestures. He is speaking to me and because of this I am abruptly present again, I exist. The cacophonous momentum of the restaurant, which had moments ago been the steady beat of my break, comes crashing over me, a tidal wave of sound. A child is screaming somewhere in the table section. The cook is hollering that the "poacher is off people! It is one o'clock, POACHERS OFF!” The rusty hinges on the front door scream as they are pushed open and clang as they are slammed shut, all of this in a rushing few seconds. I look at the man, he is older, in his late forties, large bellied with an impatient looking moustache and receding hairline.
He is telling me his order.
This must be a violation, an infringement, a breach of some invisible law. I stare at him blankly as I am overwhelmed with his expectation of swift and unquestioning service. All I can think is "but I'm on break".
I remember floating in the clear chlorinated water of the outdoor pool, looking downward, examining the grimy tiles that line the bottom. The ebb and flow of the water pushes me lightly to and fro as my hair spirals out like spilt ink in front of me. Violently and without warning, my head is jerked upward. I gasp and with the intake of breath comes the intake of liquid. I surface, spluttering and coughing. My goggles have come askew and the chemical water stings my eyes. The heat of the sun burns at my face as the sounds of shrieking children, barking dogs and blaring traffic is made 10 fold. I am pulled from the water. Now on the surface, substantially existing and no longer invisible, I find the iron grip that has disrupted my tranquility...my mother.
"Meghan be RESPONSIBLE! YOU DO NOT lie face down in a pool! What is wrong with you! I thought you were drowning!"
My eyes well up with tears and I feel a shame that I cannot put a reason behind. A weight bears heavily down on my shoulders and chest. I cross my arms and huff in frustration under my breath "But I'm on break ".
I imagine I am a baby. I am floating for eternity in the warm dark sea when the loud steady beat begins to increase. There is a movement that I do not know and I am violently flipped and shaken. What follows is a tumultuous frenzy. I am tossed and thrown, the sea now angry and stirring, sloshing, gnashing and contracting. I am driven ahead into harsh lights, blazing and blinking; into sounds, scraping and beeping. I am forged forward into the world with the obligation to BREATH and scream and live. With the responsibility to grow up, go swimming, refrain from drowning, gain independence, become a waitress, do my duty and remember that the customer is never wrong!
With choice cast aside and preference ignored, all I can think is "but I'm on break".
“Don’t worry about it Meg. Sir, if you just wait a moment I will help you no problem!”
The scenes in my mind evaporate as instantly as they appeared.
Julie gives me a strange look as she comes from the back kitchen where she was busily scraping left overs into the garbage. She smiles brightly at the customer as she recites her line. I don’t know if I have actually voiced my indignation at this man’s rude interruption. By the look on her face I have.
The moustache across the row ruffles furiously: “I don’t know why you people allow breaks here anyway, stupid in my opinion”.
But I don’t hear this part. I’m back in my mind, remembering, imagining, floating in the rhythmic sway...there is still 4 minutes left of my break after all.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday morning – 8:30 AM
“Hey YOU! GIRL! Why are you yawning, EH why are you yawning? You think you have the right to yawn? I’ve been working my whole life and YOU’RE yawning! YOU have no right to be tired. IM TIRED!”
“Morning Martha, how are you today?”
“I’m going to call the labour division on you, you know, they will straighten you out! YOU are a bad worker, I’ve seen you. I’m going to call the boss and get you fired! I’m going to tell your husband you are a terrible waitress!”
“Martha, I’m not married...I don’t have a husband.”
“Yes you do, his name is Hank and he works at Tbaytel...and I’m calling him today to tell him how badly you do your job. He will not be happy, no he won’t.”
“Would you like some more coffee Martha?”
“WHY WOULD I want more coffee? You are so .... terrible service....” Her berating rant becomes muffled as I walk towards the back of the restaurant.
I would never marry someone named Hank.
Mornings with the Lane Lady are always tiring.
I slam the coffee pot down on the heater, and upon hearing the satisfying sizzle of evaporating water, let out a deep sigh that I feel will be the first of many. I jab my fingers into my temples: it’s going to be a long day.
Although I didn’t know her real name until I came to work at this small breakfast place this summer, the Lane Lady has been a figure in my life ever since I was a kid.
There is no complicated story behind her nickname, given that children were the ones to bestow it. Her “house”, a sad wreck of twisting weeds and garbage, backs onto a sundrenched, verdant lane, which would have been an ideal place to play, had one not been besieged by a surprisingly fast old woman, heaving brooms and profanities in your general direction. Thus: The Lane Lady.
The Lane Lady, when not guarding her lane, was also a prominent and popular figure on the side of two major intersections near my childhood home, as well as the restaurant I eventually came to work for. Here, one of her daily past times was, and still is, to hurl upraised, enraged fists at the passing cars. Although I don’t know her reasons in particular, it is clear if you watch her that there is method and technique to what she does...it is an art form. For any common vehicle that passes, one can expect to receive a simple but effective close fisted jab indicating her pointed outrage, reminiscent of a revolutionary speaker or perhaps dictator of a fascist country (either way it is very opinionated). Particular vehicles though, which mine was, would receive a special signal. She would first turn herself completely away from the road, showing the oncoming offensive object her back, and then in a feat of impressively swift and flexible manoeuvring, twist her fisted arm backwards and towards the vehicle, shaking aggressively without missing a beat.
So it came to be that when I arrived to work for my third waitressing shift: fresh faced, trained and ready to please, I was shocked to see the lane lady hunched at counter seat number 4, sporting the same grimy over sized blue trench coat I had seen her in for the past 12 years. Her grey hair matted around her face: etched with deep angry lines, which I imagine were the result of years of scowling.
“Wow she is really small close up”
That was my first thought.
Then I was sharply nudged by my supervisor.
“Have you served her before?”
She smiled broadly, obviously amused, “Have fun”.
This brings me to now, five weeks later, 8:30 am on a Monday morning: the beginning of a long shift. Martha’s sharp grumbling voice breaks through the rest of the murmuring early morning breakfast crowd.
I stand in the kitchen taking deep breaths, sweating from the humidity of the August weather, the hot grill, and the lack of a good air conditioning system. The frustration that usually subsides after being on the receiving end of a Lane Lady tirade does not dissipate and begins to form the hint of a migraine behind my eyes. I turn to glare at her from behind the shelves of the back kitchen. She has absurdly arched herself over the surface of the counter, straining to reach the garbage can meant for staff on the other side. As she reaches across the space she tosses each of her used creamers in, childlike, one at a time, watching them fall. These are then followed by her used napkin and her dirty paper place mat. Afterwards she picks up her grocery bags and begins to button up her coat, despite the balmy air.
I have never seen another customer throw out their own garbage and in the lacklustre dregs of a summer job this is a marvel.
As she shuffles away towards the exit, I am reminded of how, upon first seeing her up close, she had seemed so impossibly small and breakable. The frustration slips away then and I hurry to the front cash.
“Have a good morning Martha; it’s a nice day out today”
She turns to me with no spark of recognition in her eyes, and I think for a moment she is going to tell me to “Go get a job you lazy bum!” (one of her favourites). But instead the deep angry lines at the edges of her mouth appear to turn upwards “Yes, yes, yes, yes... very nice day out today, goodbye”.
When I drive home six hours later, reeking of eggs and greasy bacon, I roll to a stop at a red light. I wave to the dirty blue back and angry waiving fist of the figure resolutely positioned away from my car on the grassy knoll a few feet away. I laugh and then breathe out a long sigh, for what is probably the 42nd time that day.